The recent network development work in February 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya, is an extension of the developing community mobilisation model undertaken by the 2 East Africa country networks alongside INPUD while in Mombasa and along the coastal region of Kenya, during November 2013.
This network development model involves the application of a grassroots hierarchy approach placing the maskani (using sites) members who have no IT access, mobile phones, enduring chronic health issues, and the most stigmatized, as the leading and most significant members of the mobilisation. This had to be complimented and strengthened by a complete decentralization of capacity building activities from INPUD for the purposes of this project.
During February 2014, the same network team consisting of KeNPUD, TaNPUD and INPUD, continued this mobilisation in the key Nairobi based maskani in Ndonyo Nyota football ground, a transient community of over 100 members, Mountain View Beach maskani in Kangemi with a stable community of 150, but who chased female members away to a different location, and a third maskani in Eastland Nairobi know locally as 'Nigeria'.
Taking workshops to the street and into the maskani has shown to be a key element in successful mobilisation. The KeNPUD and TaNPUD membership growth is becoming immeasurable. This creates as many problems as it addresses. How can such growth in membership be recorded? What constitutes a KeNPUD or TaNPUD member? It’s Interesting that the issue of membership criteria can arise in the both the youngest, and also in the more established networks. Surely we cannot exclude members of the networks simply because they do not have the literacy skills to read the Vancouver Declaration, send or receive emails, or are not in contact, or choose not to be in contact, with the centralized harm reduction projects and pilots in Kenya and Tanzania.
The recent maskani visit on the 21-22nd February in Eastland Nairobi highlighted the value and safety in being close to our direct peers in even the most potentially volatile environments. The maskani (closed using area) was so over populated that it was impossible to see from one side of an alley to another due to the concentration of people. There were many severe health issues apparent such as TB, and signs of Kaposi carcinoma with severe weight loss visible on so many people indicating that HIV among people injecting drugs must be affecting the majority of the population. This maskani is off limits to outsiders and controlled by Nigerian drug cartels. The Kenyan police and army are kept out of the area, and the harm reduction projects outreach workers never venture inside. This is an area is called ‘Nigeria’. Anything can and does happen in here. Recently a grenade had been thrown, and people regularly disappear. It is an area under illegal controls, and widely accepted as such.
The people we spoke to in ‘Nigeria’ had never heard of INPUD. However, they were aware and supportive of the Kenya Network of People who Use Drugs .We, as INPUD members, had to be very careful not to be seen as a foreign NGO due to the 2012 threats from al-Shabaab to foreign aid workers, and for us also not be seen as 'westernised' due to the Mungiki clan beliefs. We were there only as direct peers. This was what made our hosts feel comfortable and kept us safe. There was little knowledge of harm reduction information this deep into 'Nigeria', but there were just a few words from our hosts that were spoken that did have considerable impact. One of our hosts said during a conversation about the ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ Campaign stated: ‘No this isn’t abstinence, this is harm reduction…we have a choice now'. We spoke to many members of the community over the two days, and eventually met the person willing to represent ‘Nigeria’ within the KeNPUD network. She stepped forward and attended the KeNPUD workshop in the afternoon of the second day of the visit. Her name is Mama Africa. A direct peer, respected, outspoken and strong. She successfully applied to be a KeNPUD Board member adding ‘Nigeria’ to its membership. In the quarter square kilometre that we were operating had an estimated population of many thousands, and ‘Nigeria’ covers many square kilometres in Eastland Nairobi. The majority of its population is transient but with a stable live in community estimated at over 1500 people.
The deeper penetration of essential harm reduction and network information is a planned activity within the KeNPUD and INPUD activities work plan. This has now proven to be most effective if initiated by a drug user network, as the funded harm reduction project workers access to many of these drug-using communities can now be seen as limited and potentially dangerous.
The harm reduction movement, hand in hand with the peer led community based network development in Kenya and Tanzania is having a considerable impact. It was good to hear that harm reduction and network understanding isn’t restricted to the funded harm reduction projects, but starting to penetrate deep into areas that to date have been unreachable.
The combined membership of the Kenya network alone is reaching some 9000 members with a similar network development model now being implemented in Tanzania, with the TaNPUD membership now reaching some 2000 members. This is forming the planned foundation for the regional development of the East African Network.